It is the kind of visual that leaves no doubt as to the size and scale of the coal seam gas industry that is spreading across large parts of eastern Australia.
A new online mapping tool which identifies the locations of existing CSG wells in Queensland has helped to highlight just how large and concentrated the industry’s footprint has become in a few short years.
Almost 6000 coal seam gas wells have now been drilled in Queensland, and tens of thousands more are on the way for that state and NSW, according to industry projections.
CSG extraction involves drilling wells into underground coal seams and pumping out water to allow trapped gases to flow to the surface for capture. Many seams are also ‘fracked’ or hydraulically fractured with a high-pressure blast of sand, water and chemicals to improve permeability and optimise gas flows.
The potential that exists for high-volume water extraction, fracking techniques and seepage from toxic storages to impact nearby aquifers which provide a vital source of freshwater to livestock and farming operations and rural communities continues to generate deep concern as the CSG industry’s rampant growth continues.
The Basin Sustainability Alliance, an organisation formed to represent rural landholders and communities affected by coal and CSG developments in the Surat Basin, says it remains very concerned about the massive unrestricted take of water by the CSG industry and the proximity of that take to water bores.
CSG extraction can potentially impact upon groundwater bores in two main ways –by impairing the ability to pump water from a bore due to depressurisation and/or drawdowns of connected systems, or by affecting the quality of water in a bore and making it unsuitable for its normal use.
While Queensland Government legislation requires CSG companies to “make good” any impairments they cause to other users’ bores, BSA says it is difficult to see how the loss of freshwater bores can be ‘made good’ in reality.
For example, the group asks, from where will ‘make good water’ come? Moratoriums currently prevent the allocation of new water entitlements from both surface and groundwater systems.
CSG water treated in Reverse Osmosis plants could provide part of the answer, but only in the initial stages of the industry’s growth when wells are pumping large volumes of water to depressurise coal seams and free up trapped gases. Over time the volume of water produced will diminish as the flow of gas increases. BSA says the greatest impacts on groundwater are expected to manifest when gas production is at its peak, from 2050 onwards, by which time the industry will no longer have any treated water to provide.
Independent testing of bores 'insurance' for landholders
A key message for landholders in close proximity to CSG developments is to have their water bores independently tested as an insurance policy in the event that a future impairment is experienced.
Being able to produce independent test results documenting a bore’s condition before CSG production commences could provide crucial evidence at a later date should a landholder need to prove that a CSG development was responsible for a future loss in bore capacity.
Dalby cattle and grain producer and BSA secretary Anne Bridle, who has dedicated thousands of voluntary hours to investigating CSG practices and associated legislative and regulatory frameworks, says landholders should not only be testing bores to establish what is there, but also what is not there.
In addition to having their bores tested, landholders should also be looking into the chemical profiles of CSG water in their area, the contents of drilling fluids or additives used in local CSG developments, and the content of waste concentrations found in nearby CSG water treatment plants and storages.
She said a range of information sources were available and BSA could provide further advice to landholders seeking assistance.
She said landholders in close proximity to expanding gas fields should develop a full understanding of their bore/s, including:
- The location and stratigraphy of their bore/s;
- Understanding their right to water;
- Placing a value on their reliance on their bore/s;
- Undertaking tiered benchmarking depending on their proximity to risk and the nature of the risk;
- Installing an air-line to monitor bore water levels;
- Keeping a close eye on CSG expansion and maps showing when production is expected in different tenure areas.
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